As you’ve probably heard by now, on Thursday morning, the Vikings traded Yannick Ngakoue for a pair of future picks. One pick is a third rounder in the 2021 draft, and the other is a conditional fifth rounder in 2022.
Minnesota essentially regained all the assets they lost when they traded for Ngakoue back in August. When that deal went down, they gave Jacksonville a 2021 second rounder and a conditional 2022 fifth rounder.
The Vikings are back to owning a whopping twelve picks in the upcoming draft if you include likely compensatory picks that they will receive. So, now that Minnesota is back to square one, what can we assume the trade means for the Vikings now and in the future?
Yannick Ngakoue was not Going to Re-Sign
One of the reasons the Vikings were able to acquire Ngakoue in the first place was due to his unhappiness in Jacksonville. There were reports all through the winter that Ngakoue was not going to sign a long-term deal with the Jaguars because he wanted to play for a winning team. Then, when he tweeted this on March 20th, all the reports were confirmed.
After the Vikings’ disappointing 1-5 start, equal to Ngakoue’s former team in Jacksonville, they couldn’t have felt too confident in their ability to re-sign the star defensive end long-term. So, they decided to do what any struggling team does.
They cut their losses, and they acquired as many assets as they could. While the trade was shocking when it first happened, it shouldn’t be considered a bad move from a Vikings organization that has little hope of a 2020 playoff appearance.
The Vikings could have franchise tendered him for next season, as they did this year for $12 million, but the trade frees up cap space to be used elsewhere and brings in valuable draft picks. After all, with Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce returning in 2021, the defensive line is still in decent shape. Both players are signed through 2023.
This is Just the Beginning
I think the trade of Ngakoue is just the tip of the iceberg for a team that has plenty of veteran contracts. The Vikings could make a few more trades over the next 12 days before the November 3 trade deadline to free up cap space and acquire even more draft picks.
Two players that immediately come to mind are Riley Reiff and Anthony Harris. Reiff took a pay cut that allowed the Vikings to trade for Ngakoue, and his contract is much easier to move now. With 2020 second round pick, Ezra Cleveland, sitting on the bench waiting his turn, now is the perfect time to get off Reiff’s contract and see what they have in the young left tackle.
Reiff’s improved performance in 2020 makes him a very valuable trade asset over the next couple weeks for contending teams looking to bolster their offensive lines. Possible suitors could be either the Tennessee Titans, who just lost LT Tyron Smith this past week, the Dallas Cowboys, who have had offensive line troubles all season, or even the New England Patriots, who need to find a way back into the AFC East race.
As for Harris, the Vikings franchised him before this season after being unable to sign him to a long-term deal. With little hope of a new deal this offseason given the Vikings current cap situation, dealing Harris for picks would be ideal instead of wasting one of his prime seasons and then losing him in free agency.
Harris’ fellow safety Harrison Smith is also worth mentioning here, considering he turns 32 in February and is a free agent after the 2021 season.
Mike Zimmer’s Era in Minnesota is Finished
Despite everything that Rick Spielman has said, it’s pretty clear the Vikings are pulling the plug on the 2020 season. It is wishful thinking to believe the Vikings can erase the four game deficit that they find themselves in, especially if they continue to trade away veteran leaders.
The 2021 Vikings will most likely look like a very different team from this current version. With a turning of the page from this roster, the Vikings should also turn the page on their head coach. The Zimmer era has been somewhat successful, but it has also been wildly inconsistent. While he is undoubtedly a good coach, a change of scenery is sometimes best for both sides. Under Zimmer, the Vikings have gone 7-9, 11-5, 8-8, 13-3, 8-7-1, 10-6, and are now 1-5.
Possible candidates for next year’s coaching job could be Robert Saleh, current 49ers defensive coordinator, or Eric Bieniemy, current Chiefs offensive coordinator.
The Vikings Will Find Their Future Quarterback in the Draft
While it is very unlikely the Vikings will get the number one pick, there are plenty of quarterback options in this draft. Trevor Lawrence is probably (sadly) bound to be a New York Jet, but Minnesota should end up with a pick between 5-10.
The Vikings’ needs are not necessarily immediate, either. With Cousins under contract through 2022, and his contract being nearly impossible to move, they can afford to groom a prospect for a year or two.
With this in mind, the Vikings could pick either Justin Fields or Trey Lance in the first round, but if they would rather address other needs on the offensive line or the defense, they can afford to do so. If they prefer to wait until later to draft a quarterback, there is one name that stands out.
A possible candidate with a third round pick could be Texas’ Sam Ehlinger. Ehlinger came into college a very raw prospect that relied on his legs far too often to make plays. However, over the past couple seasons, his passing ability has greatly improved.
This season through four games, Ehlinger has thrown for 1211 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 242 yards and five more touchdowns. After the past few seasons of Kirk Cousins, a quarterback with dual-threat abilities might be a welcomed sight in Minnesota.